Feature

A graphic guide to all the garbage up in space

Spacefaring nations, beware! This is dangerous junk.

Space Junk

Where humans go, garbage tends to follow — and space is no exception. And much like the buildup of trash on Earth, the accumulation of junk in space poses a problem for future generations. Orbital debris, or space junk, is already posing direct threats to satellites and spacecraft: The International Space Station already has to sidestep dangerous pieces of trash, and satellite launches already have to factor debris into their timetables. All the spacefaring nations are trying to find ways to clean up the mess before the ever-growing clutter makes launches impossible. Here's an introduction to the garbage orbiting hundreds of miles above your head:

(Click on the image and zoom to enlarge)

Sources:

NASA Orbital Debris Program FAQ
Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies
Liou, J.-C. "Orbital Debris and Future Environment Remediation." NASA OCT Technical Seminar
Bensoussan, Denis. "Satellite Vulnerability to Debris Risk."
"African Elephants," National Geographic
"Lightning — Frequently Asked Questions," National Weather Service

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